12 Historical Approaches to Childcare That Would Be Criticized for Lack of Safety or Sensitivity

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Every parent wants to raise and protect their child to the best of their abilities. Many methods of childcare have been deployed and have been in use for ages. However, as there’s increasing awareness about children’s psychological and physical needs, some approaches to childcare that are considered standard are now viewed as neglectful, unsafe, or insensitive. Here are 12 such practices.

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Swaddling and Binding

Swaddling baby
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Swaddling involves tightly wrapping infants in cloth to restrict their movement, a practice that existed centuries ago. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it involved binding babies so tightly that they couldn’t move their limbs. People back then believed that it promoted proper bone growth and prevented sudden movements that might cause injury while keeping the baby warm. However, people now understand that such practices can cause difficulty breathing and overheating while also affecting muscle development and physical growth.

The Use of Wet Nurses

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From the medieval period through the 19th century, aristocratic and wealthy families employed wet nurses to breastfeed infants. This common practice allowed mothers to avoid the physical demands of breastfeeding and quickly return to their social activities. However, babies often receive care from someone who might have been overworked, undernourished, and less attentive to their needs. Additionally, people today believe that it disrupted the bonding between mother and child that was essential for a child’s emotional development.

Corporal Punishment

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Corporal punishment was widely used to discipline children. It included spanking, caning, and other physical punishments as well in homes and schools. People back then believed that physical punishment instilled discipline and corrected children’s undesirable behavior, but the situation has changed. Parents understand that corporal punishment can lead to long-term emotional and psychological damage while also increasing aggression, antisocial behavior, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in children.

Use of Sedatives

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To calm fussy infants and children, giving sedatives to them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was common. The sedatives would make the children remain quiet and easily manageable in large, busy households or during travel. However, this posed severe health risks, which included respiratory issues, developmental delays, addiction, and even death. Due to their harmful effects, people now refrain from using them and try to soothe them without using these methods.

Isolation Practices

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In the early to mid-20th century, hospitals kept newborns strictly isolated from their mothers to prevent infection. This was also known as aseptic nursing and ignored the importance of mother-child bonding and the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for newborns. This is now avoided. Rooming-in practices are followed, where mothers and babies stay together.

Baby Carriers and Walkers

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In the 19th and early 20th centuries, baby carriers and walkers were made of wood and lacked proper safety features. They were intended to help babies learn to walk and give caregivers a break by providing a way to contain and travel with infants, but they included risks like falling, injuries from sharp edges, and even tip-overs. Even though they’re widely used today as well, they are safer and designed to prioritize the baby’s physical development and safety.

Feeding Practices

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Numerous mixtures were fed to babies who couldn’t be breastfed, including cow’s milk, sugar water, and bread soaked in milk. These lacked essential nutrients and proper hygiene, but the introduction of solid foods also occurred quickly and led to malnutrition, digestive problems, and increased susceptibility to infections. No solid food is allowed now before the first six months, and only breastfeeding or scientifically formulated baby formula is advised.

Unsupervised Outdoor Play

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It was common for children to play outdoors for long periods without the supervision of parents back then, which encouraged independence, physical activity, and social interaction with peers. While it’s undoubtedly a great form of development in a child’s life, it also exposes them to various risks, including accidents, abductions, and unsafe environments. They could encounter dangerous situations without immediate help. However, the situation has changed, with a broader emphasis on supervised play and structured environments.

Labor and Chores

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Children have been expected to contribute to the household or family business from a young age, especially in working-class families. This was very physically demanding and neglected their focus from their health and education to long hours of labor. Child labor was common in mining, factories, and agriculture, where children performed hazardous tasks for little or no pay. They were exploited, which hindered their physical growth, education, and overall well-being. However, the situation has changed now, and child labor is illegal.

Orphanages and Institutional Care

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For children without their parents or family, orphanages were the primary means of caring for them in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, these institutions lacked sufficient funding, staff, and resources to provide adequate care to children, which led to neglect, poor living conditions, and emotional deprivation of the children. Such negligence is now recognized for the psychological harm and developmental delays it can cause to children.

Disregard for Mental Health

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There has been a taboo around mental health for ages, and children’s mental health issues were often ignored or misunderstood due to this. This left conditions like ADHD, depression, and anxiety unrecognized and untreated. Those children who displayed any symptoms of these were punished rather than supported, which led to further emotional distress and developmental challenges. However, society has understood the importance of mental health and put in more effort to diagnose and treat psychological issues early in life.

Harsh Weaning Methods

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In many cultures, the weaning process involved hasty termination of breastfeeding, and sometimes unpleasant methods were used to discourage the child from nursing. This included applying bitter substances to the mother’s nipples or using physical barriers to prevent the child from breastfeeding. This caused distress and confusion to the child, which disrupted the bonding process and led to nutritional deficiencies. Today’s weaning process is gentle while considering the child’s emotional and nutritional needs to ensure a smooth transition.

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